On Wednesday evening, the Portland Thorns clinched the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup West Division crown at a jog, remaining perfect in the win column with a 2-0 win over OL Reign. Booking their ticket to the final with a game still to go, the Thorns have benefited from some slow starts from their opponents, but they’ve also shown a steady hand that will likely only improve as the year progresses.
The Thorns made headlines in the offseason, acquiring Crystal Dunn from North Carolina in a move that solidified Portland as the team to beat in 2021. But they were also plagued with the same questions they face regularly in international tournament years: What happens when the big names are away, and can the club maintain their quality while carrying a small roster? So far in 2021, the answer has been a resounding yes, as Portland has been able to execute core directives in all three of their Challenge Cup matches with an amount of clarity and authority that many of their closest rivals are still searching for.
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